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From Those Who Have Been There

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May, the writer of what follows, has been an acquaintance for some time.  Often she would come into our café and read and just chill out. Later she was serving my husband his daily dose of coffee at the local Starbucks.

Because I knew her only casually, I never realized what she was dealing with until I read a Facebook Post of hers.  She deals with depression and with its stigma every day.  I thought her words were spot on for what many individuals have to face each and every day.  And her advice, woven so skillfully into the piece, is good for those suffering from mental illness as well as for their caregivers.  Thanks, May, for knocking down more of the stigma.  

As many of you know, I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety for quite awhile. I’ve been through doctors, a stay in the hospital, therapists, psychiatrists.  There is no “cure”, only learning to live with it.  Some days are better than others.  Some are worse.

Mental health still has a huge stigma all around the world. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I’m not broken.  I’m not defective.  I deserve love and happiness as much as anyone else.  And so do you.  You’re not broken.  You’re not defective.  And you’re important.  So important.  Please never be afraid to ask for help.  There are many resources out there for you.  Reach out to family.  To friends.  To a help line.  To a therapist.  To a doctor.

Depression is an illness. It’s an invisible illness and it can affect you in many different ways.  Not all treatments work for everyone.  It takes time to find what works for you.  But don’t give up.  You can make it.

Build a support group. Surround yourself with people who will remind you how important and special you are. Find someone who will tell you that you matter when you’re at your weakest.  I’ve been in that dark place.  It’s scary.  It feels hopeless.  But it’s not the end.  I was lucky.  My attempt on my life didn’t pan out.  I woke back up.  I was given a second chance.  It took a lot of work but I’m okay with myself now.  Most days.  I had to fight.  I HAVE to fight.

And I will fight every goddamn day.

I have never used them but I still keep these numbers in my phone. Just in case.

Depression hotline: 630-482-9696

Suicide hotline – 1-800-273-8255

There are many more out there. You’re never truly alone.  There’s always help.

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Left Out

Hillary Clinton released today a detailed agenda for addressing mental health issues in the country.  Top on the agenda, and rightly so, was improving veteran care, protecting mentally ill from police violence, treating drug addiction and strengthening access to housing and jobs.

There is a lot of goodness in this agenda.  Training of law enforcement to better handle encounters with the mentally ill, dealing with drug addiction both in and outside prisons, seeking to erase the stigma of mental illness, and improving suicide prevention  are all good things she proposes.

However, one thing continues to be left out whenever we talk about depression and brain illness.  We leave out mention of the people who care for these individuals, who have a mother or father or child who suffers from brain illness, or who are totally strung out from the craziness of living with a depressed individual. We leave out the importance of having family and friends part of the recovery process, the ones who should also be speaking to the psychiatrist and psychologist helping the depressed one.   And we don’t address programs that might help those who have to deal with the long arm depression and mental illness has in reaching the family, the friends, the community, and the nation.

Cheers to Ms. Clinton for addressing the issue.  However, let’s also remind her and ourselves that depression and mental illness is not a one person disease; rather, it is an illness that spreads far and wide and weakens those without support.  Let’s urge her to remember those people who day in and day out seek to stay healthy despite the tentacles of depression or bipolar or schizophrenia or the myriad other mental illnesses that seek to destroy not only the one they have but also the ones helping.

  • Bernadette

 

What the Books Don’t Tell You….

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For all  of you out there who either have a loved one who is being taken off their medication in order to start a new one, or those of you who have someone who just decided on their own to stop their medication, here are a few possibilities of things that might happen. This is not researched and I do not know if science has looked at this phenomenon but I’ve just spent the last two weeks living through it so you might say I’m  an on-the-scene reporter.

My husband has been on medication of some sort for depression for over twenty years. Pills have been added or subtracted, dosages increased or decreased, all in an effort to find the right combination that would deal with his anxiety and depression.

Last week he had had enough and told his psychiatrist that he was willing to try something drastically different, something that would stop the deep pain he was suffering on a daily basis. The psychiatrist agreed it was more than time to try something different.  He wrote out a schedule for going off the meds – five in all – and then starting the new medication – only one pill that would be increased if it showed indications that he was improving.

And so the journey began. The first couple of days were full of sleeping and depression and not talking hardly at all.  He was out of it and went to bed at an early hour.  The second day was about the same with a little less sleep.  The four days that followed were repeats with variations.

This is probably one of the biggest things I observed. The amount of sleep increased and the feeling of being totally and utterly exhausted was a frequent complaint.

Then the new medication began. He awoke the first day very angry and depressed.  No one on the earth could do anything to please him.  He got worse as the day went only complicating it with the conversation that he wanted to die – not necessarily commit suicide but he stated he would be content if he just went to sleep and never woke up.  Picture a talk like that fill with the “f” word and you have an inkling of how that day went.

By this time you can imagine that I was about ready to either sock him silly or bang my own head against the wall. I didn’t.  Instead I channeled Mary Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life.  I put out an e-mail to family and friends and said simply, “Okay, I need some help.  A phone call or visit or email to him would really help and it would take a bit of pressure off me. Whatever you can do, will do and don’t talk about depression except to inquire how he is doing.”    

It helped more than I could have imagined. It was good for both him and me.

The next day he awoke feeling depressed but not as bad. But some of the stuff that was surfacing was interesting. He didn’t have filters over what he said to people and suddenly after so many years of not dreaming, he was dreaming and wanted to talk about the  dreams.

And the day after that he felt even less depressed.  He even started to compliment me.  He joined in conversations.  He did some work around the house.  We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a good stretch for both us.

I think when medication is removed or added, it affects the brain in ways we have only begun to understand. So I share this for those of you who care for a hurting other to help in the understanding of this difficult time, an understanding that books or doctors don’t usually tell us about.  Everyone’s experience will be different but threads will be the same.

The important parts:

  1. I tried to stay calm during all of this. It wasn’t easy at some times, but in the long run it helped immensely. I also tried not to react even when he talked about wanting die.  Both of us just talked about it as something that had surfaced and needed to be brought into the light.
  2. I made sure to take time each day only for myself. If I needed to get out, I did. If I needed to just read a book, I did.  I made sure that I was okay during this time.
  3. I willingly asked for help when I realized I could not do what everyone together could. And I wasn’t ashamed to ask. And it was absolutely wonderful that  everyone responded.  I think that people need a concrete way in which they can help.  Visiting, emailing, calling.  All of those are good.  But what’s even better is for the caregiver to tell them exactly what is needed.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. The report is in and the past days have been very positive and hope is strong.

– Bernadette

Depression: We need to talk about it.

Yesterday on my other blog I wrote about an encounter I’d had while getting my hair cut (one of my least favorite things to do), which included talking about depression (not exactly my most favorite thing to do, but it’s important).

It may seem odd that five minutes after meeting someone at the corner Great Clips you’d find out about their husband’s suicide and their own subsequent depression. But after living with, writing about, and presenting about depression for so many years I don’t find it odd any more. Depression is out there. All the time. Everywhere. You don’t have to look far to find it.

What’s harder to find, though, is people who are willing to talk about it. That’s why Bern and I make a point of bringing the subject up casually in everyday conversation. We figure the more people talk, the less stigmatized people will feel, and the more chance people have to get better. 

The hair stylist yesterday shared about her husband’s suicide. She told me about her feelings afterward, and how her family tries to cope now. What she didn’t say was that her husband had been depressed. So I said it for her:

“Depression is a terrible, cruel illness,” I said. 

She stopped working and looked at me for a moment in the mirror. I could see the relief on her face.

“Yes,” she said. “Depression is terrible.” 

We’d named it. And then she kept sharing. 

We need to talk about it.

-Amy

A Poster Person for Depression

the-sun-470317_1280I watched mesmerized as my husband answered the doctor about what the depression he described as the worst he ever had felt like.

“It’s like a cloud of darkness is coming down on me and it is going to suffocate me. It is so thick that I think I can just reach out and touch it.  But I can’t push it away no matter what I do. And slowly it is suffocating me, draining me of everything.”

We were in the psychiatrist’s office, meeting with him because the depression my husband has been dealing with for many, many years had come with a force which he found unbearable.

We talked in the doctor’s office – he describing his symptoms and his concerns, me answering questions asked by the doctor. I was there because my husband asked me to be.

And that is the number one reason I see him as a model for others:

He is not afraid to talk about his depression and HE IS NOT AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP.

He is not afraid to have the family members and friends he trusts know what is going on. He treats his depression as the illness it is – something he didn’t ask for, something he is getting treatment for, and something he needs support for.

He’s not less of a man for doing this. He is more of a man because he is willing to meet this terrible foe head on.

More than 6 million men are suffering from depression and more than half of them do not seek treatment because:

a) they don’t recognize the symptoms;

b) they see depression as a sign of weakness;

c) they try to self medicate rather than seek professional help; and

d) they fear for the stigma that might arise in work and family situations.

All these barriers can be dealt with and I am not dismissing the fact that lots of times it will be difficult but it can be done.  We can trust others who describe our symptoms to us.  We can seek professional help instead of reaching for that drink.  We can continue to show that depression is an illness, not a weakness and we can continue to fight the stigma in every situation we encounter.  It’s not easy but nothing changes if nothing changes.

My hope is that more men will “man” up and take a cue from my husband and be open and honest with the people you trust and not be afraid to seek treatment for this very crippling illness.

My hat’s off to my husband and all the brave men out there who are not afraid to seek help for depression.

– Bernadette

Alive and Kicking

It began with a simple remark. It went something like this:

You just have to stay away from her. She is on depression medication and she tried to kill herself once. You never know when she will get violent.

And it was followed later in the day by:

They should just lock up those crazies and everything would be okay.

In the afternoon I heard kids in the playground. One said:

Janie’s weird. She’s got some loose screws in her head.

My day was capped off with:

Violence, violence, violence. If we could just get rid of the lunatics we could live happily ever after.

And then I read in a magazine:

Some people do have a tendency to be depressed. It is a matter of recognizing that you have sinned and once you ask God’s forgiveness, everything will be all right.

As I fell asleep I thought:

The stigma is alive and functioning and being passed onto other generations. How sad is that?

– Bernadette

Doctors, Nurses and Depression

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Recently my husband was hospitalized for a drug interaction. A simple prescription for flexerol for a back ailment combined with his depression and diabetic medication caused episodes mimicking stroke and seizure. During the time of resolution during which numerous tests were performed, I had a lot of time to observe and talk with the medical personnel.

One of the observations that took place was the job was often a thankless one, filled with cranky patients and heavy requests. What an opening for depression! And shortly after we ended the hospital stay, I came to find out that doctors and nurses have higher instances of depression and suicide than other professions. And it boils down to some situations that are difficult to escape in their jobs.

First of all they are asked (nurses especially) to do an awful lot. Not only do they deal with many patients but they have to make sure that everyone else is doing the job they are supposed to do.

On top of that, nurses especially see the patients when not even a loving spouse or friend would like to be around the ailing one. The patient is cranky and angry and often assumes the nurse is incompetent and complains that this type of treatment would never happen elsewhere.

And then you have the undeniable fact that a portion of the people they care for die, often under their care. The second guessing and the blame shouldered by the doctor or nurse can sometimes become unbearable and difficult to see as not being their responsibility.

All this opens the door to depression. It might start subtly like that extra drink or two after work or taking a sleeping aid. And then it escalates with mood swings and calls to cancel a shift assignment. A lot of people might see that as the person not being a team player or someone who “can’t hold their alcohol” or just a plain bitch. Few people think that it might be depression that is rearing its ugly head.

Doctors and nurses are at higher risk of suicide and many car accidents, drug or alcohol overdoses are written off as “accidents” and not seen as what they often are – suicide because the depression got to be too much to handle alone.

So if you observe these symptoms in a fellow worker or even in your own family doctor, don’t hesitate to say something.   Keeping each other healthy is the best thing we can do for one another.

– Bernadette